Although the F-35 Lightning II regularly makes headlines for all the wrong reasons, Air Force pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in California have begun weighing in on the jet’s capabilities, and it’s good news.
US Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Chari, director of the F-35 integrated test force and commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron, said that the F-35’s automated systems free up the pilot to focus on mission planning in an interview with Defense News.
“Each plane is its own command and control platform,” said Chari, who also has experience flying a legacy platform, the F-15.
“You don’t have to do as much stick and rudder, just getting to and from, because there are so many automated modes to use on the F-35 … [It] is almost as easy as breathing.”
US Air Force Maj. Raven LeClair, also of the 461st flight test squadron, raved about another unique aspect of the Joint Strike Fighter, the “glass” or dual touch-screen display which is highly customizable by individual pilots.
“It’s the Burger King jet,” Chari said of the F-35’s versatile setups. “You can have it however you want, your way.”
Combined with the F-35’s helmet, which employs six infrared cameras positioned around the plane to allow pilots to see through the jets’ airframe, F-35 pilots have an unprecedented awareness of the entire battle space.
“In this plane it’s 360 degrees and a much larger range of stuff that you are looking at so that you are not just thinking about what your particular jets doing, but now you are looking at other elements in a national strike package,” said Chari.
“So whether that’s looking at ground targets or emitters or air targets, you are building a much bigger picture than the traditional planes.”
Chari also spoke highly of the F-35’s ability to fly at a high angle of attack, or with its nose pointed up, saying that pilots are learning to use this quality to perform close-in flight maneuvers.
Not only are pilots touting the F-35’s next-gen capacities, maintainers are big on the plane’s internal diagnostic system.
Though critics have claimed that the Joint Strike Fighter’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), a system that internally tracks and diagnoses problems with each part of each plane worldwide, could be wiped out by a single server failure, maintainers told Defense News that the claim is ludicrous.
“We’ve had that happen multiple times, and we can still use ALIS,” said RJ Vernon, supervisor of the Third Air Force about server failures affecting the F-35. In the event of a long-term server failure, the worst-case scenario would be that maintainers have to track the parts manually, which they already do with legacy fighters.
On the whole, Lockheed Martin contractors and Air Force technicians agree, the ALIS is a big help.
“It tells you everything you need to know instantly,” Vernon said. “ALIS reduces our troubleshooting drastically, it makes my job very easy.”
Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Patters, who as worked on the A-10 and F-16s, said the F-35 was far easier to work on. His only complaint was waiting on the computer to load new tasks.
“We could teach you in 15 minutes,” Patters said of the user-friendly interface.
Additionally, the F-35 was built with maintainers in mind. The time they save working on the plane will translate to millions of dollars in savings over the life of the program.
For example, the panels of the plane allow easy access to maintainers, like the nose that comes off in a single piece. Also, the weapons bay doesn’t require cleaning, because the missiles are launched with air pressure instead of explosives that leave behind residue.
“Our jobs are drastically easier because of the way the jet takes care of itself,” concluded Patters.
Whether you’re just beginning to think about going back to school or have your mind set on furthering your education but don’t know where to start, one thing is for sure: You know that a traditional four-year degree just doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. Check out our list of the top five best-paying jobs without a degree — all you need is to get certified!
The U.S. Census Bureau released a report in 2014 stating that 11.2 million Americans holding high school diplomas or less have a certification in a chosen field. By earning a certification, you not only learn and acquire skills needed for that job, but it allows you to work your way up in some companies as you continue to learn. Here’s a list of some high-paying jobs without a degree.
Personal Fitness Trainer – $55,000
If you’re a veteran, this is a natural career choice for transitioners looking for high-paying jobs without a degree. Depending on where you live and if you have a passion for fitness, becoming a personal trainer may be the dream job you’ve been looking for. If you enjoy motivating others to reach goals and better themselves, you may be able to make the gym your office. According to Salary.com, salaries for trainers range anywhere from $30-$300 per hour. Once you build up a list of clients, you’ll have the opportunity to become your own boss and open your own fitness center. The possibilities — and motivation — are endless.
If the thought of being stuck in a crammed office cubicle all day with ringing phones is the exact opposite of what you want your career to be, maybe a dash of field work would freshen up your day. As an insurance appraiser for automobiles, you head out to wherever the cars are located and assess the cost of auto repairs and damages. The appraiser either works directly for an insurance company or may choose to work independently.
Court Reporter – $53,292
If you’re interested in working in the legal services field, being a court reporter may be for you. Responsible for documenting the courtroom proceedings via stenotype machine, court reporters will always be in demand while there is crime and courtrooms. According to Salary.com, this job requires the earned certificate and some on-the-job training. The reporter must rely on instructional advice and follow pre-established guidelines. They keep a very structured schedule, something that would be second nature to you.
Finance for Managers – Promotional salaries + $70,000-$100,000
If you like crunching numbers and want to move up in your current or prospective company, taking financial classes could get your foot in the door. According to Payscale.com, the skills needed to obtain and succeed at this endeavor include problem-solving skills, analyzing business models and applying concepts for management. This is a position aimed toward those who want to climb the company ladder in a short amount of time.
Homeland Security – $100,000
Even after leaving the service, there’s probably still a part of you that wants to continue to serve under the red, white and blue, and Homeland Security may have the best-paying job without a degree for you. With job security for years and years to come, many schools offer programs to quickly and effectively teach students everything they need to know to keep the country safe. For example, American Military University (AMU) offers an online undergraduate certificate, giving busy adults a flexible timetable to complete their certification. The staff at AMU is experienced in protecting the nation in ways of intelligence, emergency management, public safety and much more. As of July 2015, Payscale.com set salaries as high as $100,000 for those working under Homeland Security.
Some 50,000 troops, tens of thousands of vehicles, and all their gear and supplies have descended on Norway, where they’re taking part in Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.
Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen are jetting around Norway and through the air over the Baltic and Norwegian seas during the exercise, which NATO says is purely to practice defending an alliance member from attack.
Also present at the exercise is one of the mainstays of US Army aviation: The CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which has ferried troops and supplies to and from battlefields since the Vietnam War.
Below, you can see what one Chinook pilot says are the most rewarding — and most demanding — parts of the job.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey)
A US Army Reserve Chinook crew assist with preparations for Hurricane Florence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Sept. 18, 2018.
(US Army Reserve photo by Sgt. Stephanie Ramirez)
Kapaldo conducts maintenance on a Chinook at Rena Leir Airfield, Norway, Oct. 26, 2018.
(US Army photo by Charles Rosemond)
(US Army photo)
A South Carolina Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift cargo helicopter supports the South Carolina Forestry Commission to contain a remote fire near the top of Pinnacle Mountain in Pickens County, South Carolina, Nov. 17, 2016.
(US Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine)
British and US soldiers are transported to a training mission in a US Army 12th Combat Aviation Brigade Chinook helicopter near Rena, Norway on Oct. 27, 2018.
(US Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michael O’Brien)
US soldiers conduct aft wheel pinnacle landing training in a CH-47F helicopter, June 28, 2016.
(US Army photo by Luis Viegas)
Hovering with only the rear wheels touching the edge of a cliff, US Army pilots perform a maneuver called a pinnacle in a CH-47F Chinook helicopter during a training flight, Aug. 26, 2010.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Hoskins)
(Photo by Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez, CJTF-101 Public Affairs)
Soldiers prepare attach a sling load to a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter at Forward Operating Base Altimur in Logar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2009.
(US Army photo)
Engineers connect a bridging section to a CH-47 Chinook as they move their mulitrole bridging company from a secure airfield to a water obstacle in northern Michigan, Oct. 13, 2018.
(Michigan National Guard photo by Lt. Col. John Hall)
US soldiers sling load a Humvee to a Chinook at McGregor Range, New Mexico, Sept. 11, 2018.
(Fort Bliss Public Affairs photo)
(Army photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Freeman)
A US Army Reserve CH-47 Chinook helicopter crew member scans the Registan Desert in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
(US Army photo)
“It’s just a great feeling at the end of the day, knowing that I get to shape the battlefield from a Chinook.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North Korea’s military parade on Feb. 8 featured much of what we’ve come to expect from Pyongyang — grandiose speeches, choreographed crowds, and a procession of missiles.
But it also featured a mystery missile never before seen.
While many analysts focused on the big intercontinental missiles, like the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, and the threat they pose to the U.S. mainland, a smaller missile slipped by relatively unnoticed.
Here are a few shots of the new system:
While everyone’s still slack-jawed over the sight of four massive Hwasong-15 missile on their TELs, I think its important to point out a far more shocking newcomer is what appears to be a copy of the Russian 9K720 Iskander. pic.twitter.com/aDZBtOsYWH
Justin Bronk, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that North Korea’s mystery missiles “look enormously like Iskander missiles and not a missile that [North Korea has] been seen with before.”
Bronk pointed out that the former Soviet Union and now Russia have a long established history of helping North Korea with its missile program. Talented engineers left unemployed after the collapse of the Soviet Union often found good paying work in North Korea, according to Bronk.
But the Iskander isn’t a Cold War design. If Russia collaborated with North Korea as recently as the Iskander, it would have huge geopolitical implications, and would strain an already fraught U.S.-Russian relationship.
The new missile is not confirmed to be a Russian design. Mike Elleman, a missile expert at the Institute of International Strategic Studies, said the missile was “inconsistent with Iskander” and that it was just as likely a clone of South Korea’s Hyunmoo-2 missile system. North Korea has been known to hack South Korean defense information.
Regardless of origin, the little missile may be a big problem for the US
Whether Russia or South Korea was the origin of the information for the mystery missile, it poses a major threat to U.S. forces in South Korea and in the region.
Bronk explained that North Korea’s current fleet of ballistic missiles don’t have the accuracy of more modern systems like the Iskander. If North Korea deployed the new, more accurate ballistic missiles, it could lay the groundwork for an opening salvo on an attack on South Korea that could blindside and cripple the U.S.
With a large number of precise, short-range missiles, which the mystery missile appears to be, U.S. missile defenses could become overwhelmed. U.S. military bases, airfields, and depots could all fall victim to the missile fire within the first few minutes of a conflict.
Whatever the origin, the appearance of this mystery missile likely has large geopolitical and tactical implications for the U.S.’s push to denuclearize Pyongyang by force or diplomacy.
North Korea has continued upgrading infrastructure at a major nuclear plant since Kim Jong Un promised Donald Trump “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, satellite imagery has shown.
Images taken by Airbus and seen by 38 North, a website run by North Korea analysts, on June 21, 2018, have suggested that improvements to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center in the country’s west was still “continuing at a rapid pace,” according to the authors.
The site houses reactors for the production of plutonium, which North Korea uses to fuel its weapons, and for experimental light water, which is mainly used to generate electricity for the country’s civilians.
38 North warned that the images don’t necessarily prove North Korea is going against the denuclearisation pledge. They warned that since the upgrades were probably already in place, it wasn’t realistic to expect them to have stopped just a few days later.
Take a look at the images below:
The exterior of a cooling water pump house at Yongbyon’s 5 Megawatt electric (MWe) plutonium production reactor appears to be complete.
A new channel leading to may be filled with water, the images suggest. It’s not clear whether the reactor is currently in operation, however.
One of them appeared to be a four-story office building for engineers, while the purpose of another non-industrial-looking smaller building nearby could be a guest house for visiting officials, 38 North said.
Coal bins near the site’s thermal plant — where heat could be used to generate steam to drive the nuclear reactor — also appeared in the images to have been depleted since 38 North examined photographs in early May 2018.
It suggests that operations have continued since then, although the experts have not found any other evidence of operations
The images also showed multiple trucks near the site’s radiochemical lab, which further suggests recent activity at the facility.
The experts at 38 North warned, however, that the upgrades to the Yongbyon facility “should not be seen as having any relationship” to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.
“The North’s nuclear cadre can be expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang,” they said.
Although Trump celebrated his joint statement with Kim — which promised to “work towards complete denuclearization” on the Korean Peninsula — as a victory, some experts have criticized the lack of specifics on the deal.
The US said it would soon provide North Korea with “specific asks” and a “specific timeline” for implementing the agreements from the summit.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
A major aftershock hit Nepal on Tuesday, bringing further damage to a country already devastated from a 7.8 earthquake that hit on April 25.
U.S. service members were already on the ground rendering aid, and Marine photographers took these amazing images in the hours after the 7.3 aftershock. Each photo’s description comes from the Marine who took the photo.
U.S. Marines help a Nepalese man to a triage at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 13.
A U.S. Marine helps carry a Nepalese man to a triage at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
A U.S. Airman, Nepalese soldier and search and rescuemen from Fairfax County, Virginia, help a Nepalese man in a triage at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
U.S. Air Force pararescuemen prepare for a search and rescue mission out of the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal, May 13. A UH-1Y Huey helicopter assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers, went missing while conducting humanitarian assistance after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake May 12.
A Nepalese soldier carries a young earthquake victim from a U.S Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom helicopter assigned to Joint Task Force 505 to a medical triage area at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal.
U.S. Service members from Joint Task Force 505 unload casualties from a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal.
U.S. Marine Sergeant A. B. Manning from Joint Task Force 505 carries a young earthquake victim to a medical triage area at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Take a look at the jerseys for the sports teams of the United States Military Academy at West Point. At first glance, you’d probably assume that their mascot is a golden knight — which is strange, because they’re known as the “Black Knights.” What’s even more strange is that their mascot isn’t a knight at all; it’s a mule.
That’s right. The West Point mascot is the crossbreed between a horse and a donkey — just as it is for the rest of the US Army. It isn’t the best looking animal by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it anywhere close to being the most majestic. But all of the things it represents — strength, wisdom, and stubbornness determination — sum up the Army as a whole.
And the U.S. Army has been using mules ever since.
Shortly after Army and Navy football teams first met on the gridiron in 1890, both sides went to working coming up with a mascot. The Navy was first to field one. The goat named named El Cid made his first appearance in 1893 at the fourth meeting between the two branches. Navy tried out a few mascots over the years, but eventually decided that the goat was their best choice. Since 1904, they’ve been represented by the cleverly named Bill the Goat.
The Army, however, didn’t waiver between selections. They quickly settled on and stuck with the mule, as the animal has a rich history within the military. In fact, the earliest accounts of mules being recognized for their warfare potential date all the way back to the dawn of recorded history in Egypt. Even George Washington was fond of mules, having been the first to raise them in the colonies. He was the driving force behind their use by the Revolutionary Army.
West Point officially adopted the mule as their mascot in 1899, but the life of an animal mascot was a little different back then. Instead of selecting a single animal to enjoy some pampered time in the spotlight, the Army would simply select a random mule from the stables to proudly march about the field. They continued this practice for roughly forty years.
If the Army was playing a home game, they’d borrow one from a nearby handler. If they were playing an away game, they’d try to find one wherever they ended up — typically, a less-than-successful endeavor. In 1939, the Army decided to finally settle on a single, official mascot. A mule named Mr. Jackson became the first Army mule.
While many mules have since taken on this duty, it’s important to note that at least one mule in the stable must always be named Ranger after the elite infantrymen. This is part of a stipulation put in place by Steven Townes, a graduate of West Point from the class of 1975, former mule rider and Army Ranger. Townes would eventually become the CEO and founder of Ranger Aerospace LLC. after his military career concluded.
As his way of giving back to West Point, the Ranger regiment he served in, and the mules he once cared for, he established an endowment to forever fund, house, and maintain the mules at West Point. For his generosity, he has unofficially been granted the title of “mule donor in perpetuity.”
While experts acknowledge that Iran is “playing with fire” against the best navy in the world, don’t expect these incidents to stop any time soon.
“The number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions for first half of the year is nearly twice as much as same period in 2015, trend has continued. There’s already more in 2016 than all of 2015,” Commander Bill Urban of the Navy’s 5th fleet told Business Insider in a phone interview.
Urban stressed that despite the Iranian navy fast-attack craft being several orders of magnitude less potent than US Navy ships, the threat they pose in the gulf is very real.
“Any time another vessel is charging in on one of your ships and they’re not talking on the radio … you don’t know what their intentions are,” said Urban.
Urban confirmed that Iran sends small, fast attack ships to “swarm” and “harass” larger US Naval vessels that could quite easily put them at the bottom of the ocean, but the ships pose a threat beyond firepower.
According to Urban, these ships are “certainly armed vessels with crew-manned weapons, not unarmed ships. I wouldn’t discount the ability to be a danger. A collision at sea even with a much larger ship is always something that could cause damage to a ship or injure personnel.”
In the most recent episode at sea, Urban said that an Iranian craft swerved in front of the USS Firebolt, a US Coastal Patrol craft, and stopped dead in its path, causing the Firebolt to have to adjust course or risk collision.
“This kind of provocative, harassing technique risks escalation and miscalculation.”
The messages Iran wants to send
“In my view, Khamenei (Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) decided it’s time to send a message — I’m here and I’m unhappy,” Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group and expert on Iran, told Business Insider in a phone interview.
According to Kupchan, the Iranian navy carries out these stunts under directions straight from the top because of frustrations with the Iran nuclear deal. Despite billions of dollars in sanction relief flowing into Iran following the deal, Kupchan says Iran sees the US as “preventing European and Asian banks from moving into Iran and financing Iranian businesses,” and therefore not holding up their end of the Iran nuclear deal.
But despite their perception that the US has under delivered on the promises of the Iran nuclear deal, Kupchan says Iran will absolutely not walk away from the deal, which has greatly improved their international standing and financial prospects.
The lifting of sanctions on Iran’s oil has resulted in “billions in additional revenue … They’re not gonna walk away from that.”
So Iran seems to be simply spinning their wheels to score political points with hardliners, but what if the worst happens and there is a miscalculation in a conflict between Iranian and US naval vessels resulting in the loss of life?
“The concern is miscalculation,” said Kupchan. “Some guy misjudges the speed of his boat, people could die. There is a lot on the line.”
According to Kupchan, as well as other experts on the subject, Iran’s navy doesn’t stand a serious chance against modern US Navy ships.
“Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps boats and the Iranian Navy are not very capable or modern,” said Kupchan. The fast-attack craft we’ve seen challenge US Navy boats have simply been older speed boats, some Russian-made, outfitted with guns.
The Iranian craft can certainly bother US Navy ships by risking collisions and functioning as “heavily armed gnats, or mosquitoes” that swarm US ships, but a recent test carried out by the Navy confirms that the gunships wouldn’t have much trouble knocking them out of the water. The ensuing international incident, however, would dominate headlines for weeks.
“The wood is dry in US and Iranian relations,” said Kupchan, suggesting that a small miscalculation could spark a major fire, and that harassing these ships is “one of the ways the Iranian political system lets off steam.”
“Hardliners on both sides would go nuts,” said Kupchan, referencing both the conservative Islamist Iranians and the conservative US hawks who would not pass up any opportunity to impinge Obama over his perceived weakness against the Iranians.
Yet Kupchan contends that even a lethal incident would not end the deal. Both sides simply have too much riding on the deal’s success: Obama with his foreign policy legacy, and Iran with their financial redemption and status in the region as the main adversary to Western powers.
However Iran’s Khamenei may be sending a second message to incoming US leadership, specifically Hillary Clinton, who seems likely to be the next commander in chief. “They know Clinton is tough,” said Kupchan, and Khamenei may be addressing Clinton with a second message, saying “Madame Secretary, I’m still here, I know you’re tough, but I’m ready.”
For now, Kupchan expects these incidents at sea to carry on as Iran vents about their larger frustrations, and that a violent exchange would “not be the end of the deal,” or the start of a larger war, “but a serious international incident.”
NASA passed a major milestone March 7, 2019, in its goal to restore America’s human spaceflight capability when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon returned to Earth after a five-day mission docked to the International Space Station.
About 6 hours after departing the space station, Crew Dragon splashed down at 8:45 a.m. EST approximately 230 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX retrieved the spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean and is transporting it back to port on the company’s recovery ship.
“Today’s successful re-entry and recovery of the Crew Dragon capsule after its first mission to the International Space Station marked another important milestone in the future of human spaceflight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I want to once again congratulate the NASA and SpaceX teams on an incredible week. Our Commercial Crew Program is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I am proud of the great work that has been done to get us to this point.”
Splashdown of SpaceX Crew Dragon, Completing Demo-1 Flight Test
Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test designed to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began March 2, 2019, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of “firsts” in less than a week.
First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station.
First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station.
First autonomous docking of a U.S. spacecraft to the International Space Station.
First use of a new, global design standard for the adapters that connect the space station and Crew Dragon, and also will be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the Moon.
NASA and SpaceX teams gathered in the early morning hours at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to follow the spacecraft’s return journey and ocean splashdown.
“We were all very excited to see re-entry, parachute and drogue deploy, main deploy, splashdown – everything happened just perfectly. It was right on time, the way that we expected it to be. It was beautiful,” said Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX.
A critical step in validating the performance of SpaceX’s systems, Demo-1 brings the nation a significant step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from U.S soil for the first time since 2011, when NASA flew its last space shuttle mission. However, NASA and SpaceX still have work to do to validate the spacecraft’s performance and prepare it to fly astronauts.
Completing an end-to-end uncrewed flight test, Demo-1, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station at 2:32 a.m. EST Friday, March 8, 2019, and splashed down at 8:45 a.m. in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 nautical miles off the Florida coast.
“If you just think about the enormity of this flight and all of the prep that went into it – getting the pad refurbished, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicle built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis and mission support that went into it – it’s just been a tremendous job. Our NASA and SpaceX teams worked seamlessly not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Crew Dragon carried a passenger on this flight test – a lifelike test device named Ripley, which was outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on humans traveling in the spacecraft. After SpaceX processes data from this mission, teams will begin refurbishing Crew Dragon for its next mission, an in-flight abort test targeted to take place this summer. Demo-2, the first crewed test flight, will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the spacecraft’s final flight to certify Crew Dragon for routine operational missions.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
“For the first time, we’ve gotten to see an end-to-end test, and so now we’ve brought together the people, the hardware and all the processes and procedures, and we’ve gotten to see how they all work together, and that’s very important as we move toward putting people onboard,” said NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who will crew SpaceX’s first operational mission to the space station following Demo-2. “I’m, personally, very anxious to hear how Ripley is feeling after they pull her out of the capsule and get her onto the recovery vehicle.”
Paratroopers assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment prepare to conduct security checks near the Pakistan border at Combat Outpost Dand Patan in Afghanistan’s Paktya province in 2012. | U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson
President Obama once again altered his withdrawal plan for Afghanistan on Thursday, announcing that 8,400 U.S. troops would remain in the country next year rather than the 5,500 he initially authorized.
The announcement by Obama at the White House, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford flanking him, left decisions on future U.S. commitments to Afghanistan to the next president and essentially scuttled Obama’s dream of leaving office after ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The decision I’m making today ensures that my successor has a solid foundation for progress in Afghanistan, as well as the flexibility to address the threat of terrorism as it evolves,” Obama said. “I firmly believe the decision I’m announcing is the right thing to do.”
Currently, there are about 9,800 U.S. troops authorized for Afghanistan. Obama had earlier agreed to alter his plan to begin reducing that number to 5,500 by January 2017 by keeping the 9,800 in Afghanistan through the rest of this year, as recommended by his generals.
In a statement, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who just returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, said “the decision to retain 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan into next year is certainly preferable to cutting those forces by nearly half. That said, when the president himself describes the security situation in Afghanistan as ‘precarious,’ it is difficult to discern any strategic rationale for withdrawing 1,400 U.S. troops by the end of the year.”
On March 18, 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the importance of protecting the force from COVID-19 while maintaining the ability to conduct global missions.
“We’ve got fighters, bombers, and maintainers deployed working to keep America safe,” Goldfein said during a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon. “We’re still flying global mobility missions and conducting global space operations. So, the global missions we as an Air Force support in the joint force, all those missions continue.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the U.S. Air Force’s core missions remain unimpeded.
Air Mobility Command continued rapid global mobility operations on March 17, when U.S. Airmen transported a shipment of 500,000 COVID-19 testing swabs from Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Memphis, Tennessee. The mission, which was headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, utilized Air Force active duty, Reserve and National Guard components to ensure timely delivery of the supplies.
To aid the Italian response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a Ramstein Air Base C-130J Super Hercules delivered a life-saving medical capability, the En-Route Patient Staging System, to the Italian Ministry of Defense. The vital medical capability was transported to Aviano AB via an 86th Airlift Wing C-130J Super Hercules out of Ramstein AB, Germany, on March 20.
The ERPSS is a flexible, modular patient staging system able to operate across a spectrum of scenarios such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The modular system provides 10 patient staging beds inside two tents, can support up to 40 patients in 24 hours, comes with seven days of medical supplies and can achieve initial operating capability within one hour of notification.
Also, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group helped minimize the spread of COVID-19 by staffing a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station on March 23.
Airmen assigned to the 56th Medical Group conduct COVID-19 tests March 23, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. To minimize the spread of COVID-19, the 56th MDG is utilizing drive-thru services to conduct tests. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to decrease the impact of COVID-19 at Luke AFB.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are being called upon to assist state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, guardsmen are providing logistical and administrative support to state and local governments, staffing two call centers, assisting three drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations, cleaning public buildings, warehousing and delivering bulk supplies of New York State sanitizer to local governments and helping schools deliver meals to students at home.
The New Jersey National Guard also assisted a COVID-19 Community Based Testing Site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, March 23, 2020. The testing site, which was established in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was staffed by the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey State Police, and New Jersey National Guard.
Strengthening joint partnerships
The Air Force’s European Bomber Task Force regularly deploys bomber aircraft to the European theater of operations to conduct joint training with allied nations. The task force continues to train with U.S. partners to strengthen relationships and ensure the sovereignty of allied airspace.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Trevon Gardner, assigned to the 5th Security Forces Squadron at Minot Air Base, North Dakota, poses for a portrait in front of a B-2 Spirit on March 19, 2020, at RAF Fairford, United Kingdom. Gardner deployed to RAF Fairford in support of Bomber Task Force Europe operations, which tests the readiness of the Airmen and equipment that support it, as well as their collective ability to operate at forward locations.
One example of the task force’s continued operations tempo is the recent Icelandic Air Policing mission conducted March 16. The mission involved two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit aircraft from RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, as well as Norwegian F-35 Lightning IIs and U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle aircraft.
The Bomber Task Force achieved a new milestone over the North Sea on March 18, when two U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers successfully conducted a fifth generation integration flight with Norwegian and Dutch F-35 Lightning IIs.
A B-2A Spirit bomber assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Royal Netherlands air force F-35A and U.S. F-15C Eagle assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing conduct aerial operations in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-2 over the North Sea March 18, 2020. Bomber missions provide opportunities to train and work with NATO allies and theater partners in combined and joint operations and exercises.
“The world expects that NATO and the U.S. continue to execute our mission with decisiveness, regardless of any external challenge,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander. “Missions like these provide us an opportunity to assure our allies while sending a clear message to any adversary that no matter the challenge, we are ready.”
Sustaining the training pipeline
A formal memorandum released by Air Education and Training Command on March 18 detailed the command’s designation as a mission essential function of the U.S. Air Force during the COVID-19 outbreak.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Donald Weaver, 320th Training Squadron military training instructor, leads his flight with a salute during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC, stated that the command will continue to “recruit and access Airmen; train candidates and enlistees in Officer Training School, ROTC and basic military training; develop Airmen in technical and flying training; and deliver advanced academic education such as the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.”
Prior to attending basic military training, potential recruits are required to undergo processing at a Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS members have virus protocol procedures to observe and take the temperatures of all individuals entering MEPS facilities. Additionally, Air Force recruiters complete a medical prescreen of all applicants which covers all medical concerns including COVID-19.
Although they may be a little quieter, Air Force Basic Military Training graduations will continue to press on at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Graduation ceremonies have been closed to the public until further notice while social distancing procedures have been implemented to further protect the health and safety of Airmen.
U.S. Air Force basic military training graduates stand at attention during an Air Force BMT graduation Mar. 19, 2020, held at the 320th Training Squadron’s Airman Training Complex on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Due to current world events, the 37th Training Wing has implemented social distancing by graduating 668 Airmen during four different ceremonies at different Airman Training Complexes. The graduation ceremonies will be closed to the public until further notice for the safety and security of the newly accessioned Airmen and their family members due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
On March 19, the 37th Training Wing implemented social distancing procedures by graduating 668 Airmen using four separate ceremonies at four different Airman Training Complexes. Although the events were closed to the public, provisions were made to live stream the Air Force graduation ceremonies through the USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page.
Remaining ready on the homefront
To prevent the spread of viruses, the Air Force is urging its personnel and their families to continue practicing proper hygiene. This includes washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Also, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoid close contact with those who are sick. Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces should also be done for good measure.
For the Airmen on the flight line, social distancing procedures are rigorously enforced. Additionally, aircrews are having their temperatures taken to ensure aircraft maintain a clean environment that’s safe for their fellow Airmen.
NATO’s secretary-general made a short announcement to the press on May 10 in which he confirmed that the organization was requesting that its member states deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but ruled out a return to military combat in that country.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke following a meeting with the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May at her official 10 Downing Street residence in London, where the two leaders were preparing the groundwork ahead of a Brussels NATO meeting scheduled for May 25.
Stoltenberg said military authorities would use the summit to debate NATO’s petition to deploy several thousand additional troops to Afghanistan.
Exact figures would be thrashed out in the coming weeks, the NATO chief said, adding that extra soldiers would not be deployed in a combative military capacity, but would rather provide training to the Afghan forces on the ground.
Some 13,500 NATO troops stayed on as advisers in the Central Asian nation when the Alliance officially ended its military intervention against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in 2014, some 12 years after the operation was launched.
Stoltenberg said that national defense contributions would be scrutinized during the Brussels summit.
NATO has asked its members to invest 2 percent of their GDP into defense spending.
There were two new heads of state for whom the forthcoming summit was set to be their first NATO outing; United States President Donald Trump and Emmanual Macron, who is due to officially take French presidency on May 14.